Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Assessing a Software Development Mgr

I need to assess a s/w development manager and give an indication if he is skilled enough to do the job but just needs more training. I want to assess him based on applicable categories; namely, product mgmt, project mgmt, s/w development processes, technical skills, personnel mgmt, soft skills, and leadership.

Can anyone think of any other other areas a manager should understand/be skilled in and point me to any resources that may help with the assessment.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

I have not been a manager, but I will give my opinion anyway. Shouldn't a manager be assessed on criteria that have been asked of them. In other words, what are the objectives for this manager? Have they ever been spelled out for him or her? Do you, the evaluator have to figure out what the manager is supposed to be doing? Shouldn't his or her manager know that?

...end of rant.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

I've always found it most telling to ask managers how they would handle specific challenges in their jobs. The three key areas I examine are threat to the project, employee personal problem, and personal embarrassment. Examples might be:

1. Your deadline is in three weeks and your lead developer has just had a motorcycle accident. He will be in the hospital for at least a month.

2. A member of your team is going through a messy divorce, and the quality of his work is suffering. Other team members are complaining.

3. You receive an angry phone call from the CEO demanding to know why you aren't at a critical management meeting. Looking at your calendar, you see that your assistant scheduled the meeting for tomorrow.

None of these are easy questions, and none of them really have a "right" answer. What I would be looking for is some indication that the candidate is trying to find a *good* answer; flippant or canned responses are big red flags. It's more about whether the answers fit your company than whether they're the best choices.

Caliban Tiresias Darklock
Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The reason I need to assess this particular manager is that they're not meeting their objectives. If it were a developer, I would be doing the same thing but the list would be easier to develop. For lots of reasons that are hard to explain, there's concern that this person really shouldn't be in this job. So, in order to assess there skills (not talent), I need to develop an objective list of capabilities. Otherwise, the assessment becomes subjective.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

"I need to assess this particular manager is that they're not meeting their objectives"

m gave the answer: Unless the person had measurable objectives to meet, you're making the rules up as you go along.

That said, my guess is that this is a foregone conclusion anyway. You are being asked to provide justification to fire the person.

anony coward
Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Stop complaining about me and get back to coding!

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

You can't do this in secret.  If someone is failing to meet objectives then the situation needs to be reviewed openly there are a lot of reasons why objectives don't get met.

If it seems to be down to the manager then remedial action is needed, whether this is training,  support or going down the disciplinary track you can only discover that by auditing the situation openly and without assuming blame to begin with.

There is a certainty though, no objective or milestone was ever made because the manager was disciplined or moved or sacked.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

bob - Hope you didn't feel I was jumping all over you. I have just been annoyed lately by a lack of vision and clear goals in most business situations... oh yea, I forgot "tolerance for ambiguity" is their get out of jail free card. :)

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

You're missing the point completely ... and you're also answering the question based on your own personal frustrations which, while valid, have no bearing on this situation ... take the example of a s/w developer ... a developers objective might be to architect, design, implement, and test an application that provides on-line account access to credit card customers ... the skills needed are n-tier/web architectures, OOA&D, Java, J2EE, unit test development, etc.

I'm not asking for help in determining the manager's objectives ... I'm asking for a list of the "skills" one should expect a s/w development manager (not a project mgr, or a business development manager, or a qa manager) to have ... in my opinion, we're very good at detailing and managing developers to an expected set of skills but managers can have any of none of the required skills and it's a big reason s/w development projects fail.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

If a "software development manager's" job (objectives) is not defined then the skills required are equally so.

Is he responsible for hiring? Setting salaries? Choosing products to develope? If he isn't the owner/CEO and is interfacing between developers and other departments/managers, then what's required of him varies according to the nature of the developers and the nature of other departments/managers.

Christopher Wells
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

'I'm asking for a list of the "skills" one should expect a s/w development manager to have'

The ones that are in his job description. If he hasn't got one, perhaps you should be asking for a list of skills that _his_ manager should have.

Breandán Dalton
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

>'I'm asking for a list of the "skills" one
>should expect a s/w development
>manager to have'

This is hard to word ...

Let's say you have two managers.  One has an MBA and a MSCS.  He understands processes for development, risk management, peopleWare, Gannt charts, etc.  He can even present on them and everyone says 'wow, joe is smart.'

And it's right.  People take his ideas back to the desk and directly apply them.

Somehow, though, Joe can't get his team to execute.  He keeps missing deadlines.

The other manager is bob.  Bob has no formal CS education, in fact, he has a BS in Early Childhood development and taught pre-school for 10 years.

People just like bob.  He kinda feels like a father or uncle figure.  They don't want to let him down.  All his projects come in on time, he has a wonderful retention rate, and he is respected by the teams.

Who is the better manager?

Yes, you have to factor in skills, but execution is also key ...

Matt H.
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I have been a 2nd level manager for 8+ years and have assessed a lot of managers.

Does this person report to you? If not, why are you being asked to assess them? I have occasionally been called in "to provide an objective viewpoint" of another person's performance. In my experience, this was just a big mess and one I would avoid if at all possible in the future. [If you've been asked for your opinion for 360 degree feedback, that's different. In that case, the person who is asking for your feedback should take your input along with others and then come up with their own assessment.]

That said, I have found Steve McConnell's "Software Project Survival Guide" to be a good handbook for a new software project manager or team leader. There's a checklist to assess your own project in the first chapter or two of that book -- that might be a good place to start to identify the issue (s).

Also, the "Successful Manager's Handbook" (ISBN: 0-938529-20-X) is a great all in one reference for any manager. It has some sort of diagnostic tool as well. If the manager has problems with general management issues, that might point the way.

Finally, the most difficult part of the process is often in communicating your conclusions to the person you're assessing. I attended a class last week on coaching that presented an outstanding approach for giving feedback. There's a book on this too, "Coaching Through Effective Feedback".

All these books are available at and probably elsewhere as well.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I don't need to know how to communicate conclusions or give feedback ... I don't need to know how to write job descriptions ... I don't need to know how to set objectives (whoever said they haven't been set??) ... I don't need to discuss the relative merits of joe and bob ... I don't need advice on whether I should do this or not ... I have no choice ... a multi-million business depends on fixing this problem ... I need to establish a baseline of skills for a software development manager ... not a CEO ... or a business development manager ... or a monkey grinder ... just a normal software development manager responsible for managing a team of developers ... I've read all the books over the past 15 years of second level and executive management ... I can quote from Steve O'Connell, Tom DeMarco, Tim Lister, Jim McCarthy, and Steve Maguire to name a few ... I'm simply looking for feedback from a community of software developers who, I thought, visited this site because they care about effective s/w development ... I thought I'd get some opinions on what was important to them so I factor them into my criteria (which I have) ... I guess I'll look elsewhere.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Well, most software developers I have worked with think managers are inept and have to hire other people to do their work.

What I look for in a manager:

1. Keeps promises.
2. Is prompt in keeping those promises.
3. Is focused on keeping his employees trained.
4. Trusts employee input.
5. Communicates on a regular basis how well you are contributing and offers suggestions for improvements.

Good luck!

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

i give up

Thursday, February 12, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home